Lismore Primary Care Clinic executive director Stuart George outside the Lismore Primary Care Clinic in Lismore.
Lismore Primary Care Clinic executive director Stuart George outside the Lismore Primary Care Clinic in Lismore. Jerad Williams

Newest hospital needs to be filled

A FEW blocks from the groaning overload and bustle of the Lismore Base Hospital, Stuart George spends his days surrounded by the empty wards of the city's newest hospital.

It's been about six months since the Lismore Private Hospital collapsed under the weight of the debts of its former owner, Owen Ferguson Health.

Now, with a new name, a new owner and a new purpose, the facility in McKenzie Street, now called the Lismore Primary Health Clinic, is back in business - sort of.

Mr George, well known for his work as a Richmond Valley councillor and for his efforts dragging Casino's Beef Week festival back from the brink, has been appointed executive director of the facility by its new owner, National Health.

That makes it his job to find health providers to set up shop in the facility, which includes 58 ward rooms, consulting rooms, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation unit - including a hydrotherapy pool - and a top-shelf commercial kitchen.

"It's like a big jigsaw and I have to put all the pieces together," he said.

That job could be very easy or fairly tricky, depending on which party gets to form the new Federal Government during the next week or two.

During the campaign, Labor announced a $7 million pledge to fund a GP Super Clinic in Lismore. That clinic, being planned by the Northern Rivers GP Network, would take over much, if not all, of the McKenzie Street facility.

Failing that, the process becomes more piecemeal. However, Mr George said there had been strong interest from across the local medical community, and even from the Gold Coast.

The make-up of the centre, once it is filled, is a matter for speculation.

However, the direction of inquiries so far suggests the wards on the two-storey facility's top level could be converted into consulting rooms, while the ground floor ones would remain for inpatients.

One major challenge, regardless of what happens with the Federal election, is going to be filling the rehabilitation area. Mr George said that could include an outside body, such as, but not necessarily, the North Coast Area Health Service taking it over.

However, he was also open to the idea of the clinic continuing to manage the space while private physiotherapists used the physio room and the pool to treat individual patients.

Mr George said National Health's ownership of the building offered a greater level of stability than it had previously had. The company was still in the private sector, but had deep pockets.

He said he had been given targets to meet, but had no timelines to meet in terms of when the building was filled.

As far as he knew, National Health's approach to running the facility was breaking new ground and there were no examples of similar ventures he could measure the clinic against.

That said, Mr George believes the new model being provided by the clinic offers a chance to improve health services for the entire region.

Go to the clinic's website, www.lismoreprimarycare.com.au, for more details.



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